What is your pet’s least favorite holiday? If our dogs and cats could express an opinion, it’s likely they would choose the Fourth of July. While we associate it with picnics and parades, our pets are often fearful of the “rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air.”
Some pets enjoy watching fireworks, while others run outdoors and figuratively shake their fist and yell bad words at the pyrotechnics. But pets who are fearful of fireworks can respond with full-blown panic, jumping through windows or over fences in a frenzied attempt to escape the scary sounds. Others whine or moan, tremble uncontrollably or run and hide in as small an area as possible. Cats typically head beneath the bed, while dogs may curl up inside a dark closet.
“Before she lost enough of her hearing that she no longer minded, my beagle-mix became a shaking, drooling mess every year, including one night when she tried to climb into the refrigerator,” says Eliza Rubenstein of Costa Mesa, California. “Our annual patriotic tradition involved alprazolam and three hours of driving around.”
A pet’s fireworks phobia can take away enjoyment of Independence Day for everyone in the family. For a dog or, rarely, cat whose reaction to fireworks rises to the level of abject fear and panic, the following tips can help them cope.
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▪ Go for a ride. As Rubenstein discovered, being inside a car seems to help insulate dogs from the noise. Drive to an area away from the fireworks if possible.
▪ Get out of town. Susan Rosenau of Bellingham, Washington, lives with two French bulldogs whose reaction to fireworks is “complete panic.”
“We’re planning a trip to Canada for the Fourth of July this year just to avoid them,” she says.
You might not be able to leave the country, but you may be able to send your pet to stay with a relative or friend who lives in an area where fireworks are uncommon. A boarding kennel or pet sitter away from fireworks is another option.
▪ Keep pets indoors. Provide a hiding place that will prevent your pet from being exposed to the brightly lit sky and dampen the sound. This may be a covered crate in a room with the curtains drawn, a closet or a bathroom with no windows. Some pets feel safe in the bathtub. Sally Bahner’s cat, Mollie, heads for the linen closet or the vanity in the bathroom.
▪ Give your pet a favorite toy to add to his comfort level.
“Our greyhound-mix really liked to be inside and with his stuffed hedgehog on his bed,” says Melissa Frieze Karolak of Cleveland. “I think he taught our terrier that the best place to be when loud noises happen is inside.”
▪ Sometimes wearing a snug-fitting shirt or cape offers a feeling of security to a dog or cat. You can also find specially made earmuffs and eye shades to help limit a pet’s exposure to sound and light.
▪ Fearful dogs may benefit from a synthetic pheromone called Adaptil, which mimics the sebaceous gland secretions given off by mother dogs as they nurse. It’s thought to have a calming effect. A similar product called Feliway is available for cats.
If your dog’s fear of fireworks is so severe that he can’t function, harms himself or is destructive in his attempts to escape, talk to your veterinarian about medication that may help. Be sure you understand how to use it. Generally, it’s necessary to give medication before fireworks begin. If you wait, it will be less effective. Read instructions carefully to make sure you administer medication correctly. You may also want to ask for a referral to a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
Choose pocket pet hideaways wisely
Q: What are the best ways to “furnish” a pocket pet’s habitat? What are some good accessories to get?
A: Think man cave, only on a smaller scale. Small mammals such as guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and mice love their hidey-holes. It’s second nature for them to burrow into a tunnel or huddle in a small, dark, enclosed space they can call home sweet home. You can find a variety of hip hutches, tunnels, pouches and even edible hideaways made specifically for your particular pocket pet.
Hideaways reduce stress by giving pocket pets a feeling of security. And pouches or hutches that hang on the cage make it easy to remove the animal from the habitat in case of emergency. Avoid items that hang on a string instead of a chain; pets may chew and swallow string, causing intestinal problems.
Dens that sit on the ground are nice, too. Look for one with a top that comes off or that doesn’t have a bottom. It’s important to check your pocket pet daily for possible health problems such as wet tail or upper respiratory infections, and you can’t do that easily if you can’t get to him. Dens that are made of plastic parts that pop apart are also easy to clean.
Be sure you choose an item that’s an appropriate size. People sometimes make the mistake, for instance, of buying a hamster-size tunnel for a young rat. The rat grows too big for it before anyone notices and gets stuck in the tunnel. Trying to free him is stressful for the rat and the people. Hamsters can also get stuck in entrances or windows that are too small. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose an entrance without a bottom. Finally, avoid tunnels with gaps or cracks that could pinch a pet’s toe. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com.